I wasn’t expecting Montreal to be so French. I knew the City had retained its French language, but I assumed because it’s Canada it would still be very much English. I was wrong. Everyone speaks French first. The signs are in French and only sometimes translated to English. Even my Airbnb host admitted to not knowing English very well (despite what she said, her English was very good). And, so here you are in North America—in Canada who it still part of the English Commonwealth—are you feel like you’re in France.
You feel even more like you’re in France when you reach Vieux Montreal—Old Montreal. The architecture becomes strikingly European and Parisian and you genuinely feel like you’ve been transported to a medieval street. Old Montreal is how I pictured all of Montreal to look before I left. Cobbled street. Gothic and Beaux-Arts architecture.
There’s a sudden shift the moment you leave Old Montreal—one minute you’re walking through a series of low rise elegant buildings and the next you’re standing next to a plain rather boring skyscraper. But, that’s beside the point. More miraculous is that this French speaking city, in this French speaking province (actually Quebecois to be specific) has not only been able to retain its French culture but that it’s standing at all.
Almost every building we went into had a line that went “the original building was constructed in the 1600s but burned to the ground in a fire and was later rebuilt.” Apparently Montreal had a fire epidemic in the 1700s. Much like London following their Great Fire, Montreal ultimately enforced building codes that limited the amount of wood construction permitted in the City. Given how many times so much of the City burned to the ground it’s remarkable the City looks European at all.
But, it does. And, I suggest you study up on your French before visiting.